Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Contemp Culture, Future, Leadership, Ministry, Ramblings

Evangelicalism: A big can of worms

Did you know that Christian evangelicalism (and particularly the term and who it includes) was such a big can of worms?

  • Daniel Kirk, a New Testament professor at Fuller, had a great couple of posts on his reclaiming of the term ‘evangelical’ which begins here.  Especially pertinent is Kirk’s second post where he talks about the importance of conviction without sectarianism.
  • Then, there’s the Christianity Today cover piece on Al Mohler, the leading voice of conservatism, Calvinism, and, now, seemingly evangelicalism (?) in the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • And then, today, a post by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed attempting to make sense of all of this, which now has 160+ comments going back and forth on what evangelicalism means and if the term is under threat, worth saving, or capable of being saved.

So, in honor of all the confusion regarding the term evangelical, here’s a little of my own personal history with the term, idea, and/or label.

I’m not sure when I came to identify as an evangelical (or if other people would recognize me or my upbringing as evangelical).  I may or may not have been born into the evangelical world.  I am not sure, since the Christian world I was raised in may actually have been fundamentalist (another can of worms, since that is either a positive badge of honor or a negative accusation, depending on who you talk to).  I was raised with some Southern Baptist influence, mixed with more than a bit of non-denominationalism thrown in (which, in retrospect, was a tad bit reformed, though I still am not always sure what that term means). Growing up, I was ‘Christian’ and my family was ‘conservative’ (politically, and theologically by association), but never really had an awareness of a need for any further adjectival label.  Either I was that ignorant or my experience of Christian diversity was just that small (though I did have friends who were part of Assembly of God churches [and was more than a bit wary of their charismatic tendencies] and friends who were presbyterian [but had no idea what that meant]).

In college, friends on my dorm floor, when finding out I was a Christian, would ask if I was one of the “born again” types (again, I was not sure, since I knew the term, but was not sure if my understanding of the term [which was positive] was the same as their understanding of the term [which was decidedly negative]).  As a college student, I was part of an evangelical free church and had to clarify several times that “free” noted the historic relationship with the state, rather than the absence of evangelicals at the church (as in, “them there evangelical types are not welcome here, not since we kicked them out in the 70s – been ‘free’ of them ever since”).  Being involved and interested in local/state politics and working at a church, I was often asked if I was ‘one of those evangelical types the polls are talking about’ (by this point, my political views definitely did not line up with what the media still referred to as the evangelical voting block so, no, I was not).

And, now, here I am, working at a church that I would describe as evangelical (but others would have less flattering words to describe it with), with a seminary degree from an institution that self-identifies as evangelical yet is not considered evangelical enough to really be Evangelical (in both objective ways [professors not being welcome in the Evangelical Theological Society] and subjective ways [suspicion that Fuller threw out any remaining evangelical commitments decades ago and refusal to acknowledge any evidence to the contrary]).

It is really an interesting place things seem to be and I am not sure what to make of all of it.


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